Autumn photography is fall-ography

(Phil Norton/County Photographer)
PHIL NORTON

COUNTY PHOTOGRAPHER

What kind of pictures do people like to take?

Even non-photographers—every day people who now have phone cameras with automated perfect exposures—where do they point and shoot?

Since I’ve been leading group outings and workshops, I’ve realized that certain scenes appeal to the amateur photographic artist. You can find the obvious subjects plastered repeatedly on social media—nature, kids and pets—not to mention food and sunsets!

Some professionals call those “low-hanging fruit”. Anybody can do it. But, curiously, such simple photos earn the most Likes!

I call the Facebook photography phenomenon “food-ography, feline-ography and family- ography”—in other words, cats, meals and babies.

You could add travel vacations to that list in the summertime. And now we’re entering the new season for “fall-ography.”

The camera club types are always drawn excitedly to junk cars, rusted farm implements and broken-down buildings—perennial award winners. Ugly is the new beautiful. Prior to the early 2000s, lucky photographers made the pilgrimage to Milford and got access to the junkyard where mid-century cars had been stored. When I got permission from the Minakers for our County Outings group in 2012, only a few remnant delivery trucks and buses remained.

On one of my solo backcountry explorations, I came across an overgrown section of Pennsylvania’s original turnpike with a tunnel through a mountain. A search online turned up several websites showing this and other “abandoned places” including an old rail line in a wooded area where street cars had been parked and left to rot. I have pondered this innate attraction to derelict things and I believe it’s because they lend us the opportunity to be creative. Your eye may pick out something beautiful in the clutter. The photographer chooses what angle and how close and what they put in focus and what to blur. In the abandoned subjects we find abstract designs, textures, shapes and shadows, colours. They are objects with a story to tell such as 19th century stone walls, box car graffiti, even a light switch.

There is a discipline called contemplative photography in which you get to know your subject and surroundings intimately before snapping the shutter. You contemplate and then zero in on what is important and representative to show in a single snapshot. It is even used by therapists to slow us down from our hectic pace of life and become aware of the little things.

A related eastern tradition called Wabi Sabi seeks to find beauty in the imperfect, which, in fact, defines most of our world. It’s nice to portray the perfect and beautiful things, but to be thorough in documenting life, we must show the things that are not so nice yet are all around us. I’m shooting gas stations and their unstylish metal and pavement to show what we’ve done to the Earth.

Another reason I’m documenting these everyday scenes is because, with electric vehicles on the rise, gas pumps may go the way of telephone booths within a decade or two. Rather than make pictures of the new trends, I capture what’s disappearing.

Sometimes we are drawn to the neat, tidy and glitzy — perfection— such as sports cars and the symmetrical wings of a newly-emerged butterfly—whereas great photos can be made of the imperfect—the butterfly with tattered wings that has survived storms and predators on its 1000+ km flight migrating south. By the way, fall is the time to see the orange and black monarchs clustering on the northern shore of our Great Lake awaiting favourable winds to make the incredible open water crossing southward.

“Real“ photographers with “real“ cameras and lenses make amazing saleable images of landscapes, wildlife, dew droplets, travel destinations and people of diverse cultures in their respective environments. I know a professional photographer in Minnesota who sells decorative prints who has just driven around Lake Superior during the peak of fall foliage.

That’s where my Photography Adventures went last week, to the Group Of Seven artists country. That was perfection—waterfalls, mountain overlooks, endless lake horizons and flaming maples—and camaraderie with others with the same nature and photography passions.

Back to imperfection, superb photo essays have been made of homeless people, the forgotten ones, rarely seen or heard. The close-ups of grizzled faces, tattooed bodies, wrinkles, bruises and unwieldy hair is graphically and emotionally striking.

Oftentimes these photojournalists get to know the individuals who then trust them enough to share their hard-life experiences, even on video. Smart phone cameras are a good way to take close portraits without invading their space with a big pro-size DSLR. As the trees continue their annual performance of colour we should get out there to make great photos and paintings of the autumn natural spectacle, unique to us on a global scale. One key thing to remember is you don’t need bright, sunny, blue-sky days to photograph the fall foliage. Sometimes the sombre days enhance the colour even more, and rain saturates the colours; fog and mist set a mood. It’s the most glorious season but also marks the end of life and a turn toward bitter cold and the season of darkness.

We get a melancholy feeling and some people experience depression. For the elderly there can be fear of flu and COVID. Try to capture those emotions in your pictures as well. Fall photos adorn the pages of our book series, “A Four Seasons County”—2 books—“Prince Edward” published in 2020 and a new one on “Hastings” in 2022. You’re hearing this for first time, right here in the Picton Gazette: Tagona Press and 7 local photographers will be holding public book launches in Picton and in Belleville on November 17 and 18.

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